The BBC’s List of the Greatest Comedies

You may remember that last year the British Broadcasting Corporation released a list of the 100 Greatest Films of the 21st Century according to a survey of 177 film critics. Inevitably the backlash that ensued talked about the pretentious and esoteric selections that overtook the more mainstream films beloved by many. Therefore, to make amends for last year it appears that the BBC has released the results of another survey and this time the focus is on the greatest comedic films of all time. On this occasion, 253 critics contributed to the survey, and this list includes a fair amount of titles likely seen by a wide variety of people. However, we would like to highlight a few of the titles on the list, and in our collection, you may not have seen yet.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie: The Spanish filmmaker Luis Bunuel started out as a surrealist filmmaker collaborating with Salvador Dali. In their early films, they utilized surrealist imagery to skewer the hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie, which would have a huge impact on Bunuel's work and eventually lead to this brilliant satire. The plot of the film begins rather simply with an upper-class couple hosting a dinner party for their friends. From there the party, and the plot, devolves into a series of increasingly wild interruptions as the group attempts to finish what they started. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie remains one of Bunuel's most acerbic and truly hilarious films, and won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.

The King of Comedy: While Martin Scorsese isn't exactly know as a comedic filmmaker, there are definitely strong moments of dark humor in such films as The Departed and GoodfellasSome of his films are even feature length comedies such as the slapstick After Hoursand the more recent epic satire The Wolf of Wall StreetOne of these feature-length comedies, The King of Comedy, has been unjustly ignored, but with its continuing relevance to our celebrity culture and the death of Jerry Lewis, the time feels ripe for revisiting it. The film is the story of Rupert Pumpkin (Robert De Niro), a struggling stand-up comedian who decides to kidnap a famous comedian and talk show host, played by Jerry Lewis, to get his big break. Some people list this dark critique on media and celebrity culture as one of Scorsese's best films.

Playtime: Jacques Tati only directed six films, and three of them are on this list. Two of the films, Mon Oncle and Monsieur Hulot's Holiday are more accessible, but arguably, his greatest achievement remains the epic Playtime. Normally the word epic doesn't apply to comedy, but for Tati's Playtime it seems especially apt. The film is another in the Monsieur Hulot series where Tati plays the bumbling Hulot who is continually befuddled by the modern world. In this case it's 1960's Paris overrun with modern architecture and the latest technological gadgets. Tati shot the film entirely on sets so extensive they were named "Tativille," and took over 100 construction workers to build. The film was so costly, and failed so badly, that Tati was in debt for years. So follow Monsieur Hulot as he navigates an ultra-modern 1960's Paris in one zany and elaborate set piece after another. 

Trouble in Paradise: Ernest Lubitsch was such a master of the romantic comedic that his elegant and witty style earned its own name, the "Lubitsch touch." In this 1932 rom-com, a pair of con artists fall in love while conning each other, but soon enough find their love for each other tested. Will their love win out, or will the love of money ruin their relationship in this sophisticated and sexy comedy.

So now is the time to mention our beef with the list, and it is the omission of the comedic great W.C. Fields. His classic character of the egotistical and alcoholic everyman, who hates kids and is a master of the double entendre, was perfected in the 1940 film The Bank DickAfter unwittingly stopping an attempted bank robbery, the hard drinking and gambling addict Egbert Souse is given a job as a bank-detective in what is probably Fields' greatest achievement. 

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